Whether you’re working with friends, repeat clients, or new customers, you want to make your family portrait sessions fun and engaging, because this will always lead to better pictures.
So if you’re stuck in a rut or just looking for something new to try, check out these 21 ideas. They’ll stimulate your creativity and get you thinking about fun ways to take pictures of families.
Let’s get started.
1. Standing together
This one won’t win any awards for creativity, but it’s a classic. It just works.
Position everyone close together, with those on the outside turned slightly inward. Kids can stand on the ground or be held by an adult.
I always like to start with shots like this to cover my bases before I try new and creative ideas. That way, you can always deliver a classic posed image your clients will love, in case your other ideas don’t quite work out.
2. Look for interesting backgrounds
While the focus of your family photos should always be the people, it can help to use different locations – especially if you find yourself working with repeat clients.
Introducing new background elements or other scenery can dramatically alter the look and feel of an image, and will give your clients pictures they will remember forever.
3. Group hug!
Family portraits should be a celebration of love and togetherness.
So find ways to use that in your images!
Get the kids to snuggle up with the parents so everyone’s near each other.
Let the family, and others who see the photos, remember the love that can barely be contained in a single image.
4. Go for a walk
Tell everyone to stand back, get in a line, and slowly walk toward you.
Here’s an example:
This type of shot is a classic for a couple of reasons. For one, families love it. Plus, it’s the type of photo you can’t get with a mobile phone.
I recommend using a zoom lens, because you can zoom from telephoto to wide as the group gets closer.
It also helps to have a camera with a fast continuous shooting speed and a deep buffer, so you can take as many shots as you need to nail the perfect one.
5. Go for a run!
This one works great if you have children involved. Just tell everyone to back way up and then run toward the camera.
(Kids love doing this type of shot!)
Make sure everyone is holding hands; otherwise, the speedier ones will end up ahead.
Also, quick tip:
Use your camera’s high-speed shooting functionality combined with a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.
6. Showcase the generations
When doing a multigenerational family portrait session, it’s a good idea to get at least one shot showing the eldest couple plus the family.
Put the eldest couple in the middle and surround them with their children, grandchildren, and other relatives. This creates a sense of closeness and family bonding that’s immediately apparent to anyone who looks at the photo afterward.
7. Headshots of each person
This might seem like cheating because a single headshot isn’t the same as a family portrait.
But I love taking headshots for my family clients since they require almost no extra effort on my part and the families always enjoy the results.
(I’ve found that most people aren’t expecting individual headshots when you do a family portrait session. So they’re seen as a fun bonus and will keep clients calling for repeat business.)
7. Use backlighting
It’s always important to look for the light any time you’re taking photos, and it’s especially true for family portraits.
Normally I like the light to be behind me, but it’s fun to play around with backlighting and see how it can dramatically alter your images.
In this example, the fountain behind the couple adds a brilliant shine to the shot, thanks to the power of backlighting:
The sun also adds a nice rim light to the newly engaged couple. See how they shine in the late afternoon sun?
The couple was thrilled with the result, and your clients will be, too.
8. Group the genders
Grouping the genders isn’t exactly new or groundbreaking. But it’s a tried-and-true formula for great results – one that your clients might not think about in advance but will greatly appreciate afterward.
So put all the women together and take some shots, then do the same for the men.
My clients always have fun doing this, and it gives them some great photos to hang on their wall.
9. Show playfulness
Kids love to laugh, play, and run around.
So why not embrace that during a photoshoot?
Ditch the poses for a minute and let your clients just have fun. This works especially well with young kids; parents will pick them up, swing them around, and have a great time just enjoying the day.
But have your camera ready to capture those moments!
10. Build photo benches
I did many family photo sessions that left me frustrated. You see, I didn’t have a great solution for a very basic problem:
I didn’t have a spot for people to sit.
If you’re in a controlled studio environment, you can deal with this easily. If you like to shoot out in nature, however, you might not be so lucky.
Thankfully, with a few cheap pieces of wood from any home decor store, along with some tools and a free afternoon, you can build your own photo benches (and solve this problem once and for all!).
I now have three benches in different sizes that I use to accommodate a variety of families. They can be used separately or placed together as one long bench. It doesn’t even matter if they get scuffed or dirty, since imperfections add to a sense of character.
And the results are amazing, plus I no longer worry about finding a spot for my clients to sit comfortably.
11. Just the kids
Amidst the joy and chaos of a family photoshoot, it’s easy to overlook this classic pose – but it’s one that you’ll regret leaving out.
Parents love shots with their kids together, and even when not all the kids are happy and cheerful, I still get positive comments. Pictures like this show the unique personalities of each child, and I usually get one or two kids smirking, grinning, or doing their own thing, to which their parents say, “Yup, that’s just who they are!”
12. Involve the pets
Bringing pets to a photoshoot can be a mixed bag. When you introduce a four-legged friend to a formal family photo session, you add a lot of uncertainty, and it’s almost impossible to make the animal do what you want it to.
Even so, there’s a host of important benefits: It puts your clients at ease, helps them remember their pets fondly, and can make for some genuine smiles.
I find this works best if you do your photo session at your clients’ house. But if you do go out, make sure the clients bring a portable kennel or some treats to keep the furry friend occupied when it’s not in the shot.
13. Use structures
I like going out around town to do family photo sessions (preferably to a handful of places I have scouted in advance and used many times before).
The nice thing about some of these spots is that they have built-in structures and other accoutrements that allow you to take fun, sometimes unplanned, pictures of your clients.
So don’t be afraid to include these! Embrace the structures around you and use them to add flair to your photos.
14. Show affection
This one is a little tricky, but the results can be absolutely heartwarming.
Just be careful how you talk with your clients and direct them during the shoot. You don’t want signs of affection to be forced or uncomfortable, and unless you are good friends with your clients, you might not know where to draw the line.
That being said, I’ve had nothing but positive results just by asking parents to give a quick hug or kiss to their little children. These simple signs of affection often end up being my clients’ favorite shots.
15. Read a book
Any time you do a family photo session with kids, particularly younger ones, you have to be willing to accept a degree of uncertainty.
After all, the kids might be hungry, fussy, or defiant – and it’s your job to make the best images possible in spite of these obstacles.
I don’t recommend handing out sweets or treats to children, as this can introduce even more unwanted uncertainty. But if you want to get the kids to cooperate, ask your clients to bring along some of their child’s favorite books. This helps them relax and can lead to some very special pictures.
16. Use their home
I do almost all of my work for clients outdoors. But sometimes I’m invited inside their homes, and this can make for some very special sessions.
If you schedule a shoot at your clients’ house, ask if you can arrive early. Assuming you get the go-ahead, come before the session and politely look for good spots to take pictures. Look for furniture, toys, and large windows that will let in plenty of light.
Ideally, you want to schedule a pre-consultation with your clients to discuss the session. Treat these at-home opportunities with the respect and dignity your clients deserve, and they will be glad to ask you for future photo sessions.
17. Show context
I sometimes get asked to photograph singular events in my clients’ lives: birthdays, graduations, and other milestones.
And while you can always use these opportunities to capture the same types of portraits you would normally shoot, what really matters is context.
So find ways of incorporating visual elements from the event into your photos, as I did in this image:
My friend asked if I would take pictures when he received his Ph.D., and I made sure to include campus buildings in the frame to serve as a reminder of his time in graduate school.
18. Capture candids
Sometimes the best shots of a photo session are completely unplanned. While posed pictures are nice, it’s also fun to get pictures of your clients just walking around, laughing, talking, and enjoying one another’s company.
In other words:
When photographing a family, show them being a family!
And it’s okay to cheat a bit here, too. For the shot below, I asked the couple to walk across the veranda, then I caught them in a candid moment of joy.
19. All hands on deck
When taking pictures of a large family, especially one that spans multiple generations, make sure to get an image with hands.
Clients love seeing mementos like this, and they can instantly pick out which individuals were present just by looking at the hands.
Plus, an image like the one below captures myriad details that are missing in headshots and full-body portraits: wedding rings, the weathered hands of the grandparents, and the small hands of children next to their mother’s and father’s hands. It’s a touching image that speaks volumes about the family without showing any faces at all.
20. Use their ideas
Any time I do a family session, I make sure I’m well prepared. I have a clear idea of my goals for the session, where I want to be, what kinds of images I want to get, and of course, plenty of spare batteries.
But you have to be willing to adapt and incorporate your clients’ ideas, too. They might want to try something different, go to a new location, or pose in a way you hadn’t considered.
Don’t shut these ideas down! Even if the images aren’t your personal favorites, your clients might love them, and they will certainly appreciate your willingness to listen to their suggestions.
21. Use a silly noise-maker
This idea is last because you have to use it carefully. If you know your clients well, and if there are young children in the family, then one fun thing to consider is a remote-controlled fart machine.
Yes, I know that seems absolutely ridiculous, but nothing sends kids into a gleeful bout of giddiness quite like an unexpected breaking of wind.
These little gadgets are inexpensive and can be hidden underneath a bench, taped to a stool, or tossed behind a tree. Right as you prepare to take a shot, click the remote and watch the kids erupt with laughter.
Adults might roll their eyes, but the kids will love it, and you’ll get some of your favorite shots of the session.
Family portrait ideas: Final words
There’s no guarantee that these family portrait ideas will result in perfect pictures. Any number of things can go wrong on a family shoot, but any number of things can also go right.
The point here is to fill your mind with possibilities. That way, you can do everything in your power to get the best possible shots.
And above all else, try to relax, have fun, and enjoy the session!
Your clients will love the results…
…and they’ll soon be asking you to come back for more pictures.
Frequently asked questions
What should my clients wear for a family session?
I recommend solid colors in matching groups (such as some people wearing blue, others wearing green, etc.). But remember that the photos are for your clients, and even if they show up in clothing you wouldn’t recommend, your job is to take good photos regardless.
Do I need a tripod for family photos?
Absolutely not! You can use one if you prefer, but I find that tripods and even monopods are more of a hassle than a help. You need to move around, especially if you’re shooting pictures of kids – and if you are tied down to a tripod, you won’t be nearly as flexible and adaptable.
You do a lot of outdoor family photos. What’s the best type of location to look for?
I try to avoid popular spots like botanical gardens and college campuses (which often have beautiful landscaping) and look for spots that are off the beaten path. My primary consideration is light: I like spots with tall trees and even lighting, even if there aren’t flowers or fountains. Choose your locations so the emphasis in your images will be on the people, not their surroundings.
What camera is best for family portraits?
You can use almost any camera for family photos, but I recommend one with a large buffer and the option for a battery grip. The former will prevent you from wasting time waiting for your camera while photo opportunities slip by. The latter will give your camera enough battery power to last for hours, which means one less thing for you to think about during the shoot.
Do I need an expensive portrait lens?
No, but if the only lens you have is the kit lens that came with your camera, I would recommend at least investing in a single prime lens. A 35mm or 50mm lens won’t be expensive and can yield amazing results, especially for family photos.